A former high-ranking member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult who was sentenced to life imprisonment over the cult’s sarin gas attacks on Tokyo’s subways had his sentence upgraded to death on Friday in a high court appeal ruling.
The accused, Yoshihiro Inoue, 34, was handed the death penalty after the Tokyo High Court ruled that he helped arrange the attacks in 1995 and bore as heavy a responsibility as those who released the sarin in the deadly attacks.
“He bears the same responsibility as those who carried out the crimes,” Presiding Judge Toshio Yamada said in handing down the ruling.
Prosecutors had appealed against a Tokyo District Court ruling in June 2000 that sentenced Inoue to life imprisonment. Inoue’s lawyers have appealed against the high court ruling to the Supreme Court.
Inoue is the 13th member of AUM to be handed the death penalty and the 10th member ordered to hang over the subway attacks. The ruling marks the first time the sentence of an AUM member who has been handed life imprisonment was altered in a high court ruling.
In trials over AUM Shinrikyo’s activities, those who conspired with convicted cult guru Shoko Asahara to produce and release sarin have been handed the death penalty. Although drivers involved in the crimes have been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Since Inoue was judged to have plotted the sarin attacks and helped prepare them, but was not directly involved in releasing the gas, the weight of his role and the balance between his sentence and others had been focal points of the trial.
In throwing out the earlier district court ruling, the judge said Inoue conspired with Asahara, who has been handed the death penalty, and was responsible for the “overall coordination” of the attacks by communicating information from Asahara and others.
Inoue’s lawyers had argued on his behalf saying he did not carry out the attacks and deeply regretted what he had done.
Inoue was the head of the AUM cult’s former “intelligence ministry,” and was an aide to Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto. Inoue later provided evidence on Asahara’s involvement in the attacks and called for AUM followers to leave the cult.
AUM’s attacks on Tokyo’s subways in 1995 killed 12 people and sickened thousands of others. AUM Shinrikyo now calls itself Aleph.
(Compiled from Mainichi and wire reports, Japan, May 28, 2004)